The next day passed slowly for Pansy. Hope and excitement were trying to break through years of doubt and sorrow, and all these conflicting emotions left her reeling. Thankfully, with finals canceled and a free period in what would have been Defense, she didn't have to concentrate much. She spent part of the day browsing the library, finding a reference book that should hopefully help tonight's discussion. With little appetite, she went to the Great Hall for dinner early just to get to the meeting with Harry as soon as possible.
Harry, on the other hand, spent the afternoon in the infirmary talking to Hermione. Madame Pomfrey had told him repeatedly that she couldn't hear him, but that actually suited Harry just fine. He felt like he was unburdening himself, spilling secrets to Hermione, even though she wouldn't remember them. In truth, it felt good just to say some things out loud. Harry had been isolated for so much of his life that talking to himself was therapeutic, a way to not go crazy when he was locked in the cupboard for days on end.
Once he knew that he was alone with Hermione, he began to ramble. Harry's excitement was hard to contain. If Pansy was telling the truth, he might finally be free from the hell of his relatives. He told his best friend's stiff form more about the pain of his life than he ever thought he would. The many nights he had passed out from sheer exhaustion when he had been too hungry to fall asleep. The dozens of times he painfully wheezed all night long from what he assumed were broken ribs. The time 2 years ago when his uncle had broken his arm for not washing his car thoroughly, only for it to be healed over night. And the even worse day later when his uncle found out & broke it again. That was one of the only times he ever felt something other than hatred for his aunt as she had kept Vernon away from him for the next few days. Whether she was trying to keep Vernon from getting blood on her carpet or just didn't want to have to figure out how to dispose of his body, he never really could decide although Harry assumed it was probably a bit of both. After all this time, pain was just a normal part of life to Harry- and the idea that he might soon never have to see those monsters again left him feeling positively giddy.
Assuming she wasn't lying to him... and for some reason Harry just instinctively knew that she wasn't.
When he saw her that evening, as one of the first people sitting down at the Slytherin table across the hall, he could tell he was right. Instinct had been forced to develop strong in him just to keep him alive all this time. The look on the girl's face, brief as it was when she quickly looked away, told him that she was desperate for him to succeed and to help get her away from her own family life. Harry wondered what exactly had been so wrong with Pansy's childhood, but the idea of combining magic with whatever cruelty allowed people to abuse children quickly began to turn his stomach. He pushed those thoughts away as well as he could and tried to focus on the time left. 6 days till the end of term and the return trip on the train. He forced himself to eat and began trying to plan how to escape to Gringotts.
Less than half an hour later, he saw Pansy finish eating and leave the Great Hall. As he was about to finish his last bite, Fred & George entered the Great Hall and headed for Harry.
"Hey Harry, about yesterday-"
"We just wanted to apologize-"
"You were right, it was out of line-"
"We shouldn't have taken it out on that girl-"
"It's just after what happened to Ginny..."
"We were frustrated and angry-"
"Guys, hold up. First of all, its not me that you should apologize to. Secondly, I can understand being upset about Ginny. Next time, pick the right target. Here's a hint: the name starts with an M and ends with alfoy."
"Right Harry. I don't see Parkinson anywhere tonight, though..."
"Maybe we should tell her sorry tomorrow?"
"Sure guys, could you tell Ron I needed to go by the library tonight? He borrowed my broom this afternoon and hasn't made it to dinner yet."
"Okay, later Harry."
Harry tried not to hurry out the door and down the halls. As soon as he made it to a bathroom and found it empty, he pulled out his father's invisibility cloak and headed upstairs.
On reaching the 7th floor, he found the mysterious door from the day before and cautiously opened it. Pansy was sitting on a leather couch opposite the door, with her wand out as he stepped inside. He pulled off the cloak and she let out a breath.
"I was about to start hexing. How did you get a hold of an invisibility cloak?"
"Apparently, my father left it with Dumbledore before he died. I received it as a Christmas present first year."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"You mean the part about why people in hiding from the worst Dark Lord ever would just give away something as useful as an invisibility cloak when their lives are at stake?" "Well, that or the part about how the old man was allowed to hold onto a Potter family heirloom for a decade. Then he just gives you your property back as if you should be grateful to him."
"Yeah, oh how benevolent of the mighty Dumbledore. I'm granted one thing that belonged to one of my parents a decade after they died."
"So much for the idea of me turning you into a cynic," Pansy said with a chuckle. Harry noticed that she seemed to be more at ease the more bitter he sounded. This was so refreshing- Ron and Hermione both complained when he "got moody." As if they had any idea what a bad mood really was. Ron not getting a third plate at dinner or the library not allowing Hermione to borrow two dozen books at a time were not even on the same planet as the summer Harry had been dreading until yesterday.
"So, what all do I need to know about how to become emancipated?"
"The basics from yesterday are the main things. I'd recommend calling Dobby to help out once you claim your head of house status. He can take you wherever you need to go, transport your belongings, and whatnot. House-elves are actually really useful; unfortunately for them, most wizards just see them as servants for doing things around the home." "I guess I should talk to Dobby about what all he will be able to do for me."
"Especially with how loyal he was yesterday. I imagine he'd do most anything for the great Harry Potter!"
"I know he's a bit... excitable..."
"That's one way to put it," Pansy smirked.
"Well he did try to save my life. Just not in the most sane ways."
"Who are we to say what is sane for a house-elf?"
"Considering he's the only one I've ever met, I have no idea."
"My family has one named Leddy. She is pretty odd, but part of that could be the different people she has to serve. My mother is particularly harsh in her punishments," as she said this the sneer Pansy often wore returned. "She's not so bad when Father goes away on business. Dear old mum often just drinks the day away, so as long as I stay out of the way, things are pretty calm.
"By the way, for all sorts of magical customs that you should learn about, I got this from the library," she handed over a book that was relatively new compared to most things one would find in Hogwarts. "I figured it might be prudent to check this out for you. If Dumbledore is interfering in your life, better to not let him have any idea what you're up to."
"Something I read once in a muggle book: 'Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.' I'm not sure which would be worse, that he might be lying to me and manipulating my life, or that he's just a senile old fool. Either way, he is magically and politically powerful and could cause me more problems."
"Okay, so read the book and then ask me any questions you might have."
"Well I have one for starters- what about all of these customs do I need to know to help you?"
"You're really going to help me?" Pansy said, briefly startled. A little voice inside her head screamed out in disbelief, 'He wouldn't be a hero like this for someone like you. You don't deserve it.'
Harry answered, "Of course" so quickly and easily that the terror receded and Pansy's sliver of hope exploded with glee. She smiled to him and said, "In a way its too bad it wasn't me you saved from the Chamber of Secrets. That would make things a lot easier."
"Well you would be owed a life debt as Head of House Potter by House Parkinson, so you could just claim me from my parents."
"What is option two then?"
"You could help me runaway, but that would only be a temporary solution. The larger problem is betrothal agreements."
"What does that mean?"
"My parents could arrange a marriage for me," she said with a look of pure disgust. "Would you want to be Mrs. Draco Malfoy?"
"I think I'd rather die."
"Exactly." An awkward silence followed before Pansy could continue. "There are ways to break betrothals, although some of them are quite painful."
"Sounds fun," Harry answered cynically. "What types of torture are we looking into exactly?"
"Well, an easy one would be for me to lose my virginity. That would cause the typical pureblood arrangements to fail."
Harry suddenly looked at Pansy and involuntarily gulped. He admitted that Pansy was attractive, but he hadn't considered her like that before. Puberty had recently kicked in and Harry was just starting to understand how much more he wanted to touch a girl. Pansy was certainly cute enough to be that girl. But she was talking about jumping in to the deep end of the pool and Harry hadn't even learned to tread water yet. A moment of dread crept in. He'd already decided he was going to do whatever he could to help her get away from her family but this was going to be more serious than he was afraid of. Now he had to quickly think of how to respond.
"The look on your face, Potter," Pansy said with a genuine laugh. No smirk or sarcasm, actual mirth coming from the girl cleared Harry's thoughts. "The hero can face down monsters and rescue damsels in distress but seems terrified to help poor little Pansy."
"Well considering the best option you've suggested involves yet another near death experience, while plans B & C could lead to your family claiming that I had either kidnapped or raped you, I think a little terror is the appropriate response."
"As often as you seem to nearly die, maybe I should just hang around you for a few weeks and that life debt idea could be ready to go."
"I haven't even told you about some of my 'adventures' that involved even more danger thrown my way," Harry responded with something between a groan and a chuckle. "My time in the magical world has involved 9 close calls with death; considering that involves a year as a baby and two years of schooling, I'm pretty sure that Fate must hate me."
"Well then, maybe the next week will solve this little problem. I'll just have to figure out a way to keep close enough to you to nearly die at the same time."
"This conversation is getting a little morbid. I'll read the book soon, why don't we talk about something else for awhile. Tell me something about yourself. We might as well get to know each other if we're going to be partners in crime, so to speak. The teenage runaway team of Potter and Parkinson."
"Parkinson and Potter sounds better, after all I'm clearly the brains of this organization."
"I guess I should start working out if I'm supposed to be the muscle then."
"Good idea, Potter, you're a bit too scrawny for my purposes right now."
Although he felt a brief bit of anger at why he was so small and thin for his age, Harry realized that Pansy didn't know that. Somehow, he was able to push that aside and just keep up the teasing banter, "Should I be worried about what purposes these might be?"
"I think worrying about being a criminal or nearly killed again are enough for your plate right now."
"Thanks for small mercies. So tell me something about yourself. After all, a little shared black mail info might make our nefarious partnership more successful."
"Look at you with the big words. Clearly you've spent too much time around the bookworm," Pansy said before realizing- "Sorry, Harry, I'm sure you've been upset about Granger."
"I've actually spent a lot of time in the infirmary with her. I know Madame Pomfrey says she can't hear me, but that's not really a problem for me. I grew up alone, talking to myself is nothing new. I'm closer to Hermione than other muggle born students because someone like Dean had a normal childhood- that's not something I can really relate to very well. Hermione grew up in books. I'm not as avid a reader as her, but the library was one of the few places where I had moments of peace."
"Damn it, now I have to say something revealing too." Pansy was more than a little shocked at Harry opening up to her like that and had to think for a moment. "Something personal, then... I like long walks on the beach with a guy who can make me laugh at sunset."
"How shockingly normal of you. Let me guess, turn offs include bad breath, poor manners, and people not willing to nearly die to save your life."
Pansy laughed and replied, "Fine. I love to dance. When I was younger, I was taught how to dance for societal functions, typical pure blood stuff. I enjoyed it so much that I was able to convince my parents to have extra training at it. Of course, I haven't actually been able to use that training for anything as Father's business dealings and travel have limited the family's social events lately. Another year or so, and I'm sure they would have me out on the ball circuit trying to see who might offer up the best offer for a betrothal. That does put a damper on the hobby, but as a girl, the idea of dancing with some handsome young man..."
"So Pansy is a romantic, imagine that."
"I'm not a little girl any more, Potter" despite rolling her eyes, Harry could tell from her tone that she wasn't as annoyed as she might claim. "Besides, only pure bloods would be suitable for me. Tell me who you would pick from Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Nott, & Zabini."
"Ugh. I guess Zabini isn't too awful," Harry said before noticing her look of revulsion. "Maybe not?"
"He might be the worst option, and considering Malfoy, that's saying something."
"What makes him so bad?"
"I guess you wouldn't know much about magical society. His mother is very rich as she's had 6 wealthy husbands who have all died. I can't remember what her last name is right now as it changed again about a year ago and honestly, I would rather never have to speak to her. Can you imagine having her for a mother in law?"
"Or even worse, how an obvious serial killer might do raising a son. I can just imagine after his first wife dies mysteriously, his proud mother the psychopath."
"You're smarter than you look Harry, so I assume you realize why I would never want to be the first wife in that scenario?"
"I'm still not sure that would be worse than Malfoy, at least Zabini might make it quick and painless. A few years as Mrs. Malfoy might be a fate worse than death."
"I think a few days would be bad enough. He may annoy you regularly in classes and at meals, but at least you don't have to be in the same house with him or share all his classes. Almost everyone in Slytherin is a pure blood, with many having much older and more powerful families than his, but Daddy Malfoy's money means Draco thinks everyone has to bow down before him. I'm sure you want to punch his smarmy face in, imagine having that same feeling all day, every day."
"I'm sorry, I guess I didn't realize how awful Malfoy was to people other than me. My dearest condolences, my lady," Harry said while dramatically taking her hand and brushing his lips across the back of her hand. Pansy suddenly blushed and was glad that he wasn't looking at her while wondering where this confident and amusing side to Harry was coming from. For Harry's part, he had a brief flash of wonder at what the hell he was doing before just deciding to trust his instincts. Maybe he was flirting with her, but considering she had thrown out the idea of losing her virginity to him earlier, maybe that wasn't such a bad thing.
"Apology accepted, after all you are just the muscle of the organization, I guess I can't expect too much sensitivity out of you."
"If you want me to grunt and call you mistress, you're out of luck," Harry said with a smile that made Pansy consider just how much she might like to hear him call her mistress. "I will, grudgingly, admit that Parkinson and Potter does have a slightly better ring to it, but that's still the name of a partnership. If you want a goon to follow you around, you'll have to see if Malfoy will rent out Crabbe for awhile."
"Crabbe is a bit more menacing looking, don't you think?"
"I guess but they're both so dense that neither would make a very good henchman. Must be why they stick to Malfoy, he could never be much of a mastermind without having to tell his father about everything."
They both started to do an impression of Malfoy saying 'when my father hears of this' before bursting into laughter. Harry smiled at Pansy, watching her try to control herself, and wondered at how much he enjoyed being around her. A week ago, this would have been unthinkable. 'Well, might as well have a criminal partner that is a bit of fun to be around.'
"Somehow, next year, I want to be able to talk to you without worrying about who might see us."
"That's a big goal, Potter. Between the junior Death Eaters and bullying thugs like the Weasleys, we both might be screwed."
"The Weasley twins actually apologized to me about the other day when I was on my way here. I told them you were the one they needed to apologize to."
"Not bad, you actually got through to those fools. Other than walking around with a ready wand to hex people, I'm not sure how to fix someone like Malfoy."
"We'll have to figure it out together, partner."
"Alright partner, if you can figure out something to help deal with that little shit then I might be willing to admit that you're more than just the muscle."
"I'll get right to work on it then just to show you my most smug face when we walk down the hall together in the fall."
"It shows Gryffindor foolishness to court danger by openly cavorting with the enemy, you know."
"Well, if you ever become my enemy, I'll start to worry."
"Have you thought about what classes you're going to take next year? Because, as partners, we really should take the same classes to maximize our time for scheming."
"More time for us to make the fools around us confused too. After all, am I the next Dark Lord taking a good pure blood princess as his Dark Lady? Or are you an evil witch seducing the poor hero to the dark side?"
"Either one would be hilarious to hear as gossip. Back to classes though, of the five options only three are worthwhile. Muggle Studies is widely regarded as an easy joke class, plus I assume that since I'll be teaching you about the magical world you can explain the muggle world to me."
"Fair enough," Harry answered, thinking that he probably would have to learn a lot of things about the non magical world too. He hadn't had a wide variety of experiences out there anyway. That was something else that he would have to change this summer.
"Divination is also pointless. Unless you're having visions of the future, which is really something you should tell your partner about."
"Assuming day dreams don't count, then no."
"That leaves the other 3, all of which could be useful. Arithmancy has to do with numbers, math, patterns and whatnot and how they relate to magic. I don't know anyone taking it but it sounds fascinating."
"Are you sure you're not secretly a Ravenclaw? I was pretty good at math in primary school, so I'm willing to give it a try."
"Good. Study of Ancient Runes would be very practical too. Runes are used in all sorts of things like warding, enchanting magical items, making every thing from wands to brooms. I decided a long time ago to take it, so you better be willing to join me in it. That just leaves Care of Magical Creatures."
"After everything I've experienced these last couple of years, that should really be important for me. Between a basilisk, acromantulas, a unicorn..."
"Wait a minute, a basilisk? That was what was in the Chamber of Secrets?" Pansy said shocked.
"Yeah, it nearly killed me too. But that's not important right now, I need to tell you something. I just remembered the unicorn from first year-"
"You killed a basilisk?" Pansy was looking at him in disbelief. "What could be more important than that?"
"It's about Voldemort." That got her attention and Pansy saw that Harry was having trouble deciding what to say next. A tense moment of silence made her force him to finish his thought.
"What about him Harry? I really don't like this serious look on your face, say whatever you have to say so we can get back to our criminal organization."
"He's not dead. Or not completely. First year he was, I don't know, I guess possessing Professor Quirrel. Remember that turban he wore?"
Pansy nodded looking horrified. "Is this going to explain how he mysteriously disappeared at the end of the year?"
"He didn't disappear. I killed him."
A statement like that was always going to bring the conversation to a halt and Pansy stared at Harry with a scrutinizing eye. He couldn't tell what she was wondering about him and for a moment he thought that maybe he shouldn't have told her this, but she deserved to know, especially if she was going to count on him in the future. He quickly decided to continue.
"He had Voldemort's face growing out the back of his head. Dumbledore had hidden Nicolas Flamel's philosopher's stone in the school, apparently as bait for Voldemort, but I don't think he realized that Quirrel was actually possessed. Imagine that, we actually studied under the Dark Lord," Harry said this with a chuckle, but Pansy still looked worried and horrified. "Remember that nonsense about a painful death down a third floor corridor? They had a Cerberus guarding a trapdoor along with a few other obstacles, all of which 3 first years were able to get past. In the end, Quirrel and Voldemort attacked me to try to get the stone. He tried choking me and when I struggled to fight him off, touching me burnt his skin. I grabbed him and he basically turned to ash. Dumbledore claimed that the protection of my mother's sacrifice protected me from him. Then this black shadowy form flew away, so he's still out there as a wraith or spirit or something."
"I assume this means Quirrel was the one hexing your broom in Quidditch then?"
"Yeah. I ran into him in the Forbidden Forest when he was feeding off the blood of a unicorn."
"Why were you in the Forbidden Forest?"
"McGonagall sent me out there with Hagrid late at night for detention to find out what was attacking unicorns. Hermione, Neville, Malfoy and I went out with Hagrid before he had us split up. A few months after being told to avoid it, a teacher sent 4 first years out with the grounds keeper to track down whatever nasty thing was killing magical creatures."
"That's completely insane!"
"I know, I've kinda assumed that everyone's mental in the magical world since then. It would explain why so many people bought into Lockhart's nonsense or why Snape is allowed to teach, if you want to call what he does teaching."
"Speaking of unpleasant people, I should probably tell you something too. My father is a business associate of Lucius Malfoy, and has been for years," Pansy said with a dark look.
"You mean he's a Death Eater? Another of Voldemort's followers?"
"Officially, he was under the Imperius curse. Unofficially, he always wears long sleeves to hide the Dark Mark. And you can probably guess that would mean he isn't very pleasant, even to his family."
"I'm sorry," Harry answered. He thought that he should give her a hug, show some comfort, but another part said that she didn't want his pity. He settled on lightly patting the back of her hand, and if she hadn't pulled away, he might have tried to hold her hand.
"I believe you actually mean that, but the point is that this will make things more difficult and dangerous for us both. My family would be a problem regardless but because of who he is and who you are-"
"There's a much greater chance that he'll try to kill me."
"Yes," Pansy said, resigned that she might be losing her partner before her plans could really take shape. She looked away and wished she had allowed Harry to take her hand a moment ago. She didn't want him to let her go, but she could barely stand the idea of trying to face her father. How could she expect him to do it for her, or even with her? "Okay. I guess the start of our schemes will have to be dealing with your father and then the Malfoys." His movement caused her to look back and Harry was now standing in front of her with has hand reaching out. She smiled as he asked, "Partners?"
She shook his hand and agreed, "Partners."
"So, we'll take 3 electives together next year. I think Ron will be annoyed with me, I'm pretty sure he's going to take the easiest classes he can."
"Speaking of the endless stomach, how did you get away from him so easily tonight?"
"I let him borrow my broom this afternoon so I could get to dinner early & not have to lie about ditching him to come meet with you."
"So you are hiding this too?"
"Well, Ron isn't known for subtlety, and I wouldn't think you'd like him shouting about why we're suddenly friends in the Great Hall. He'd probably say something offensive about how you were obviously evil and trying to use me for nefarious ends and then I'd have to punch him for being an ass."
"But I am using you for nefarious ends," Pansy laughed.
"No, no, no. You're just encouraging my heroic Gryffindor nature to rescue another damsel in distress, even if I have to resort to questionable methods. And that just shows how far I'm willing to go to do the right thing."
"That is a marvelous rationalization. Maybe you can be my assistant in the brains department."
"Do you want to be my assistant with the physical side of things?" Harry smirked back at her.
Pansy flushed but answered, "If you can find something important enough for my time, but don't expect me to break a sweat unless its really worthwhile."
Harry now knew he was going to have to study and prepare this summer for a new, more important task. He was sure that he would make it worth her time.
Pansy thought that the idea of getting sweaty with Harry was sounding more appealing the more he talked to her. And looked at her. And smiled at her. She felt a shiver go down her spine. She had to get ahold of herself somehow.
"So, tell me all about these 'adventures' you've had. I need to know just what my partner is capable of to properly scheme. I can hardly believe we might actually be able to do something about my father. Must be a Gryffindor rubbing off on me."
"Being decisive can be a good thing. Gryffindor decisiveness combined with a nice cunning plan will turn out well for us."
"I guess I'm cunning enough to share a bit of my expertise with you."
"Want to know a secret?"
"This sounds fun. It isn't very cunning to willingly give me more blackmail worthy information, you know?"
"Eh," he shrugged. "This will amuse you and I don't mind if you know some of my secrets since I know some of yours. The sorting hat wanted to put me in Slytherin. I begged it not to."
"Why?" Pansy could have become his friend two years ago if he had agreed with the hat.
"Mostly because I'd already met Malfoy."
"Now I hate him even more."
"I'll admit a bit of it was that Hagrid and Ron had both told me that Slytherin was where all the evil wizards came from too. But Malfoy was just such a prick that I couldn't stand the thought of sharing a dorm with him."
"It would have really been something to see the looks on people's faces if the boy-who-lived was sorted into the house of snakes."
"True. It was fairly amusing just watching the look on your face when I told you."
"Well, I admit that you are a bit more cunning than I thought. Now, on to these adventures Potter, and make them interesting."
The room thankfully was providing as it had the day before, so Harry took a drink of Butterbeer before beginning to tell her of all the craziest things he'd done over the last couple of years. He made sure to get every near death experience in, as they weren't as bad to talk about now that he had lived through them. Plus, he really didn't mind telling Pansy about them, especially if they made him sound more heroic. He went through everything he could think of from first year- from smuggling Norbert out, to how the Troll was defeated, and through all of the obstacles to get to the stone. They both spoke of how thoroughly negligent it was of Dumbledore to keep the stone in a school, then discussed how the Chamber of Secrets fiasco was possibly even worse, especially once Harry told her of how Dumbledore knew that Tom RIddle had opened it 50 years ago and Moaning Myrtle had been killed by him. That also got into the fact that Voldemort was Riddle, and a half blood at that, something that made Pansy shake her head at how many pure bloods she knew had knelt before him. They talked on and on and by the time Harry's story was catching up to meeting her in the hall just yesterday, they realized it was after curfew.
Harry got out his cloak and turned back to Pansy, "Get under here with me and I'll help you sneak down to the dungeons."
That was an offer that Pansy was glad to accept. She cast a quick charm to help muffle their footsteps and they opened the door into the hall. She looked back into the room to make sure they hadn't left anything behind then joined Harry under the cloak. It wasn't going to be too cozy with him, as the cloak was surprisingly large, but she decided to stay close just in case she felt the need to wrap an arm around his waist. To make sure they kept their pace while walking, of course, certainly not because she just wanted to hold onto him.
Harry had discovered a couple of secret passages that trimmed a fair amount of time off the trip down to the dungeons, but if he didn't have Transfiguration first thing in the morning, he would have taken the longer path just to be near her longer. They were able to complete the journey without running into Filch surprisingly and Pansy was soon about to say good night.
"Will we see each other tomorrow?" he asked wondering at how he would be able to keep getting away from Ron to talk to her.
"We probably shouldn't. If we both keep disappearing every evening someone might notice. Besides, you need to read that book."
"Okay, how about Friday evening?"
"We'll both go to the library after dinner. I'll find a quiet spot then once you see that I'm alone, you pull me under this cloak and we come back up to this room. We can sleep in the next day if we get caught up again like tonight." Pansy was determined that they would definitely get caught up again. "Good night, Harry."